Cream Of The Country: Rottingdean

A rural haven for City workers, this village is a short hop to the bustle of Brighton, says Nick Lloyd Jones
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The Independent Online

Rottingdean is a picturesque East Sussex seaside village nestling in a sheltered hollow of the South Downs between bohemian Brighton and the no-nonsense working port of Newhaven.

Rottingdean is a picturesque East Sussex seaside village nestling in a sheltered hollow of the South Downs between bohemian Brighton and the no-nonsense working port of Newhaven.

The village is ringed by a belt of non-descript bungalows and retirement-style homes, but when you turn off the coast road down its narrow winding High Street the old world charm of its central conservation area soon becomes apparent.

The High Street's shops, pubs and tea shops are interspersed with lines of pretty Victorian cottages that gracefully meander up into the village's central hub - a peaceful oasis made up of a pub overlooking a well-stocked duck pond and a village green skirted by a series of handsome mansion houses.

Principal among these is the Elms that was built in 1745 and enjoys pride of place directly overlooking the full length of the green - the idyllic setting for the annual village fete. It was here that Rottingdean's best-known resident Rudyard Kipling lived and wrote many of his Just So stories.

Snaking off from the green are leafy lanes and cul-de-sacs lined with period houses and whitewashed cottages, whose immaculately tended gardens spill over in a riot of colour during the summer.

Immersed in its unhurried village life, it's hard to believe that the hustle and bustle of Brighton is only four miles away. "Rottingdean is very much a satellite of Brighton and even shares the same postcode," says David Webb, who runs an estate agency in the village. "Property prices tend to be more or less the same as in Brighton, especially for prime sites in the centre of the village."

The grandest homes are undoubtedly the mansions on and around the green, which can change hands for upwards of £1m. The best of the rest tend to be the two- or three-bed Victorian houses and flint-fronted cottages along the High Street or tucked away in the lanes around the green. There are a couple of other pockets in the village worth keeping an eye on. Tudor Close is a secluded residents-only mock-Tudor complex to the back of St Margaret's Church off Dean Court Road.

Its crooked flagstones, bulging beams and quaint shady courtyards look remarkably authentic but date back only to 1929, when it was built as a hotel. It was a great success for a while, becoming a favourite holiday resort of such Hollywood movie stars as Bette Davis, but its heyday was short lived and it fell into disrepair before being converted into residential units.

Attractive flint-fronted period properties can also sometimes be found for sale along Rottingdean's sea front. These enjoy fine views and are handy for the High Street shops. The reason that homes along this stretch are so often competitively priced, however, is that they tend to suffer from traffic noise coming from the major coastal road.

The village is very much family-oriented, and smaller properties, notably studio and one-bedroom flats, tend to be in short supply. Many families have moved to the village attracted by its green spaces, good schools, gentle pace of life, low crime rate and wide selection of shops, pubs and restaurants.

Quite a few have come from as far as London, again attracted by the tranquillity of the place as well as its proximity to Brighton, which has fast and frequent rail links to the capital. These buyers get a lot more for their money in the village than they would in London and have found that the benefits of living there vastly outweigh the inconvenience of having to commute into work every day.

But perhaps Rottingdean's biggest attraction is the surrounding countryside. There are fine walks along the promenade with its bracing sea breezes and views along the coast to Brighton's white stucco Regency crescents shimmering in the distance. Then there are the Downs themselves, whose soft contours envelope the village in an emerald-green cloak.

A short hike to the west rises up through allotments, past Rottingdean's windmill and clock golf course towards Brighton Racecourse with its lively summer meetings and magnificent views over the twinkling marina below. But it is to the south of the village that the Downs really come into their own, their gently rolling hills opening up onto some classic English rural scenery.

Amid the constantly changing vista of rippling cornfields, country houses, rolling hills and densely wooded copses, one begins to appreciate why this glorious stretch of countryside is shortly to be awarded National Park status.

Fact box

Cost of living: Studio flats from £100,000; one-bed houses from £125,000; two-beds from £200,000; four-bed houses from £300,000; mansions homes on the green from £1 million.

Attractions: clock golf course; bowling green, windmill; pubs; tea rooms; good restaurants; museum/library; good schools; Brighton Racecourse; coastal walks; glorious countryside; Saxon church.

How to get there

It takes about an hour by rail from Brighton to Victoria and frequent buses connect the four-mile stretch between Brighton to Rottingdean.

Rottingdean's USP

It feels blissfully tranquil, and yet it's just a step away from cosmopolitan Brighton.